I’m sitting in McDonalds to enjoy an early breakfast and discuss the weekly issues -and beyond- with a friend. He seems delayed but a small group of Chinese have taken over center stage. Might as well. And as it turned out: equally entertaining. Sitting in the middle of McDonalds, they make enough noise to wake up the whole neighborhood and create enough tension to cause another earthquake.
But, before I continue, I do feel the need to explain: I’m not a McDonalds fan, really, but this early in the morning, it is the only place open with the heating running hot and serving a breakfast with coffee. It is sad that whatever they serve all tastes the same and the portions are always much smaller than the pictures on the large display boards suggest and only remotely related to real food, but it is always better than the locally favored steamed mantou and dou jiang; steamed buns with hot soya milk. Choosing between two evils.
Back now to center stage: I think they are working on their marriage -though more likely on a way out of it. They are so excited that I find it hard not to listen in. I normally don’t do that, really, but it’s not that I have any choice in the matter: with both their volumes steadily being turned up, I shall be witness. So far, I am quite sure they have come to an agreement. The agreement to wholeheartedly disagree with each other; each others friends and the whole world, if need be; and in all matters and beyond. A friend-advisor on either side. They would have been lawyers if this was America, but this is cheaper and just as effective. Job advisors they are. Not job advisors, but Job advisors. Their aim is to estrange and divide and discourage. The whole scene makes all other couples here shy away and feel deeply connected through an inner silence of love and unspoken understanding, loving each other even more, holding hands across the table and whisper, very soft and sweet. Not us, honey, they say. At least not in McDonalds.
And so it is. The Chinese is a closed society but at times like this it appears to be brutally open and revealing. I remember a couple in the opposite block on the fourth floor. It was a beautiful spring day and it seemed she was doing the spring cleaning. Not a bad thing at all. But what a cleaning! Everything went out of the window. First the TV. Then the stereo set. Then his laptop. And all that time he was on the road below trying to catch it. A Chinese marriage guru explained this phenomenon once as a final way for her to say: “My man, I want you!”. Rather than an angry cry for separation, it is a desperate expression of love. Love with Chinese characteristics, I bet. I’m just glad my wife uses cheaper ways to express herself.
Marriages in China fall apart faster than anything else. And just take it from me: things generally don’t last that long here. Sad as it is though, it should not surprise us. With couples often living separated for years only to see each other once a year during Chunjie and family members on both sides breathing down their neck constantly pressuring for kids or money, more money, and lacking any good example and guidance, how could it be different?
The Chinese government recognizes this as one of the possible destabilizers of its harmonious society but isn’t sure what to do. Its interference in peoples lives over the last 60 years hasn’t really built the trust needed anyway. But they are trying hard. A new law was introduced recently to prevent the women from automatically receiving half of the couples property value upon divorce. Though some were happy, hell broke loose. Marriage is, more than ever before, revolutionizing into a carefully calculated financial arrangement, or rather: investment. And with the government measuring happiness with only one thing: RMB (= yaun = Chinese money), so will its people.
And even the local online matchmaking companies aren’t helping much either. Whatever the reason for that failure, they do know how to make themselves attractive: ‘guaranteed success within 10 days’ and ‘no good, money back’ and ‘first 5 days free tryout’ and ‘2 for the price of 1’. But then again: more divorces will give more singles will give more desperate men and women searching will give more… clients. Back to square one: money.
But at the end of the day, also in China, all we need is the simple but profound love that does not take, but gives. A love -no, THE love- that is always patient and is never envious or arrogant with pride; that never thinks just of herself and is not resentful; that is always glad to side with truth and pleased that truth shall win. It is the love that bears up under everything and believes the best in all; the love that knows no limit to her hope and will never fall. The love that never fails. And for more and more Chinese, that is all they are looking for, a love that never fails.
Not this morning though. Leaving McDonalds I see -and hear- the troubled couple and their advisors in the middle of the busy traffic junction motioning and shouting at each other. Then they get into separate cars and drive away in opposite directions. Can it be more symbolic?
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